Long Hail the Queen!

The Queen Mary launched for the first time in 1936, a gem of the Cunard Line, a premium luxury ocean liner designed to carry passengers between New York and Southhampton, England. Between 1936 and 1967, 1001 transcontinental round trips carried hundreds of thousands of passengers.

For years, the Queen Mary transported luxury passengers, celebrities and the like until the war broke out, then it was converted to a troop transport ship. It hauled troops from England, America and Australia between the continents. There was a concern that German submarines would target the luxury liner, so it was dry docked for a time in New York to keep it safe.

The history of the ship is well-documented at the museum that bears its’ name. The Queen Mary floats alongside the Long Beach Harbor as a testament to the dreams of men. It was engineered at a time when computers weren’t available. Over 20 models were built of the master ship prior to the final building of the ship.

In 1967, the ship was decommissioned and purchased by the City of Long Beach as a tourist attraction. Set afloat in the harbor to preserve it’s history and provide a place for events. Twenty years ago, I visited as part of an event. This week I got to go back and look at the boat with a fresh pair of eyes. In a time when I appreciate the craftsmanship and brilliance of engineers who started to develop magnificent machines over a century ago.

The Queen Mary is a beautiful example of that ingenuity, and it has been so well preserved by the curators of this great ship. The wood work is immaculate, the engine room is polished and clean, the room samples are done in their final take of 1960’s blah. My favorite is the wood, the salons are done in beautiful teak, strolling the promenade deck gives you a sense of what it would be like to travel the Atlantic in past times.

One of the cool things they have done is to record people’s stories of their voyage on the Queen Mary. So many talked about the food and the music, it doesn’t take much to transport yourself back to that time.

There are so many things to do in Southern California, a visit to the Queen Mary should make that list, if only to re-discover your sense of history


Meal time

So much of our lives revolve around food.  We celebrate with it; we drown our sorrows in it; we schedule all the best times in our family around food.  Any time we get together, the first conversation is about where we are going for dinner.

When we are home in Idaho, we always have to make it to our favorite local spots.  First to Tommy Vaughn’s and Rupe’s – next stops, the best Mexican restaurants in town, El Vaquerro and Melina’s.  At every one of those places the owners can predict what we’re eating, if not drinking too.

Rupe’s has been a favorite for as long as I can remember, we even order stuff not on the menu. When I was there last, I ordered a Leo Burrito with extra veggies.  It got delivered perfectly and then I looked up to see Leo standing there – he smiled and said “I knew that you were here somewhere.”  I love being recognized.

This trip to California is a short one to spend with Haley, but our day was surrounded by where we were eating.  Always trying to look for local spots, instead of chains, we are usually really successful.  Today we stopped at Polly’s, which is a SoCal place, 15 restaurants around the area and every one with some great homemade food.

Our final stop was one of the chains, but this one is one we have loved for years, it is always a happy place with great food.  We’ve been in San Francisco and Chicago and tonight it was the Santa Monica Pier.  Bubba Gump’s never fails to please my palate.  The food was good and the service was awesome.

Toward the end of the evening, Red stopped by our table after we commented to our waitress about the young man who “projected” during the Happy Birthday number.  He pulled up a chair and sat down, you see, he is an actor.  We talked a little about whether he was an “aspiring” actor or the real thing.  He’s making films and reminded Haley that 99 people will tell you no, you just have to hold out for the one who says yes.  When he left, he gave her a high five and told her to keep up the good fight.

I think our family focuses on food and meals so much because that is where the people are, the ones who drop in to your life to make an impact.  Thanks, Red – good luck to you.

Save Johnson Valley

Food and Big naturally go hand in hand.  Make that tacos and you definitely have a winner.  While we were out inJohnson Valley,Californiaat the King of the Hammers 2012 event, Raceline Wheels and our friend Greg Mulkey put up a challenge.  He invited four of the biggest guys in off-road racing, Dave Cole (president of Ultra4 Racing), his brother, Chris Cole; Shaun Bootsma, volunteer cooridinator of KOH; and Big (president of WE Rock/Dirt Riot) to participate in a Taco eating contest.

All agreed, some reluctantly, but the cause was a good one. Johnson Valley is a huge area lying between two mountain ranges.  It is used for off-roading of every variety.  Over 160,000 acres of trails and open land on the Means Dry Lake Bed that is filled up and emptied out of people on a regular basis.  This is a BLM run OHV park, one of the largest public use areas in California.  There is recreating in the area every single day.  In addition, there is a Marine Base that runs south and east of the Valley and there is a current plan in place to expand the Marine Base to the west.  This would encompass almost all of Johnson Valley and thereby eliminate the recreational use of the area.

Now, I am in favor of the Marines expanding as they need to, they serve our country every day, but my preference and that of my fellow off-roaders is that they expand to the east.  There is as much land on that side of the marine base that is currently not being used as there is on the west.  So the battle cry is taken up by many, “Go East Marines!”, and the fundraiser Big ate tacos for was to Save Johnson Valley.

The goal for the week was to raise $100,000 on the lake bed to help to lobby and influence our lawmakers that have a say in what happens to the Marine expansion.  In addition, March 14 and 15 have been set aside to talk to our local congressman and senators to let them know that even if we don’t live in California, we have a stake in what happens in Johnson Valley.  Join up, join the men and women in the off-road community and the thousands of dollars raised in saving our recreational spaces.  Go to Save the Hammers.org to find out ways you can help.

And in case you’re wondering, Big won the taco eating contest  🙂

Sweet Harmony

Took three of my favorite people with me to catch some Christmas Spirit last week.  We attended the holiday dinner and Christmas show hosted by the Idaho Falls A Cappella Chorus, also known as Sweet Adelines.

Sweet Adelines is the largest singing organization for women, there are over 500 choruses worldwide.  Four part harmony, also known as Barbershop is the style of singing they do, all a capella, and I love to listen.

Last fall, my youngest, Haley, was invited to sing with Sweet Adelines in Idaho Falls, they have a wide variety of very enthusiastic members.  She loved singing with them.  In May, we traveled to Spokane, the week before her high school graduation, and competed with the Idaho Falls A Capella Chorus at the Region 24 Contest and Convention.  What an experience that was.

The choirs competing ranged in size from 15 to 180; the sounds and sights were spectacular.  These girls don’t just sing, they perform too.  Every song is a story, and the performances were incredible.  The costumes are all sparkly, they seem to love glitter, the props were fun, the music inspiring. I loved the competition day.

Our chorus competed for six minutes, they sang When I Fall in Love and The Moment I Saw Your Eyes.  One is a ballad, the other has some serious tempo.  The best part was seeing all those women come alive.  The age range was 18 to almost 80, and every one of those women belonged on that stage.

An experience to be sure, our choir came home with a bronze in their division, I was so proud of Haley, she added one more art form to her repertoire.  Thank you to all of the women who performed last Friday night for our entertainment, what a great cause, and a great inspiration, I think I might have found my holiday spirit!


Good works

Our little community, like so many others, celebrates Christmas very traditionally.  With lighted trees and Santa Claus, hot chocolate and shopping visits.  This week is the annual Christmas Tree Fantasy, a fundraiser, it raises thousands of dollars for local charities through its many facets.

I got to go today with my friend Michelle to enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas.  We made sure we participated fully.  It began with our $2.00 admission at the door, then continued with lunch.  A great little chicken enchilada special and we moved on to the Fantasy floor.

Our first stop was the homemade goodies for sale, there were fudge and caramels, popcorn balls and my favorite, raisin filled cookies.  Stop number two was the homemade crafts that are donated for sale, handmade items and little decorations of all sorts of varieties screaming out in Christmas colors.  If you need a gift for someone, this is the place.

We moved on to the tree room from here, over 45 decorated trees and wreathes available for auction to the highest bidder.  There were trees with popcicles, movies, bright lights, there were trees of white and gold and silver, there were trees of pink and purple and brown.  Indians and soldiers, movie stars and macaroni art, nutcrackers and doggie treats.  Whatever theme you want, it probably is available at our Fantasy.

Going to a place like this with someone who gets you is the most fun, we both laughed at the music, we both liked some trees and would have changed others, it was the best part about going out there.

Tonight will be the auction and lots of money will change hands, tomorrow the Morning News will show some trees and share the success, check it out.

I wish the Fantasy organizers all the success and congratulations for a job well done.  Doing good in your community is always a good thing, thank you.

Donner Pass, inhospitable country

Donner Pass is one of those locations that everyone has heard about, we all have a memory of the Donner Pass story, even if we don’t really know what happened. Donner Pass falls in the history books with Lewis and Clark and Sacajewea.  We all know, but yet, we don’t know.

The Donner of today is lots of traffic, it’s the I-80 corridor over the big mountain pass.  It’s chains required and of course, it’s the California Agriculture Inspection Station – where they ask if you have any fruits.  Has anyone ever answered yes? 

If you get off the freeway at Truckee you are treated to a terrific little town if you go to the “Central Downtown” Truckee area, it is old and quaint – totally touristy, but fun all the same.  I like this section of Truckee.  Today we stopped for brunch at Smart’s Wagon Train Coffee Shop.  It’s been there since 1947, built up by the Smart family and enjoyed by everyone, locals and tourists alike.  As you come in the door, be prepared to be tempted, there is a bakery case full of beautiful pastries.  I couldn’t resist ordering a wedding cookie even before I got my breakfast, all that yummy powdered sugar surrounding the almond center. I should have bought a dozen, I’d be swimming in powdered sugar by now.

The road crisscrosses the highway from the Downtown section to the next, to the best Ace Hardware anywhere.  It looks like 6500 square feet of everything, and their employees are everywhere to help you.  In the summer, it is packed, everyone is in Ace Hardware entertaining their visitors.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

Follow the road through Truckee, weaving back over the interstate, by Donner Lake.  In November, it’s beautiful.  In the summer months, I’m sure it’s beautiful around the lake, but there are so many people, it’s hard to see anything but the traffic along the road.  I’d love to look, but not while I’m driving.

The view from the top is gorgeous though, as you stand up by the bridge, recognizing how inhospitable the area really is, and thinking about how the wagon trains crossed in this area.  It is no wonder a tragedy like the Donner Party happened. 


Yellowstone in the fall

The nation’s first National Park was approved by Congress in 1872. Yellowstone National Park is located in Montana,Idaho and Wyoming and offers over 250 miles of pavement within the park boundaries.  There are five entrances and eight visitor centers, hundreds of miles of back country trails and an infinite number of animals to view.

We always like to make a list of what we see, this trip it was elk, buffalo, crow, eagle, hawk, geese and while we didn’t see any in the park, we saw tons of deer this trip.  On our list of things to see is the people, you know the ones you can refer to as “tourons” – that’s a cross between tourists and morons – they always make the list. In the off-season, there aren’t very many people, but, of course, there is always someone doing something stupid.  Friday, it was the little Toyota that seemed to think the buffalo would move just by beeping its horn.  You gotta wonder what the buffalo were thinking with this little car on their butts. 

A couple of years ago, K and I were in my Mini in the middle of a herd of buffalo.  When one of the buffalo turned toward the driver’s side close to K’s window, she freaked out, I laughed so hard, but not as hard as the bus driver in the lane facing us.  A great memory.

Yellowstone is a park that every one should get to, it is a national treasure.  There is so much to see.  From Mammoth Hot Springs to Canyon to Tower. Old Faithful is a must see as well as the Paint Pots.  My favorite is Norris Geyser Basin and Firehole Canyon (you can swim here).  It doesn’t matter what time of year you go to Yellowstone, just go.  My friend, Dr. Pam and I went snowmobiling in Yellowstone two years ago.  They make you take a guide and put you on 4 cylinder snow machines these days, but it is still worth the trip.

Plan now, make Yellowstone your vacation destination for 2012.  It is worth the effort to get there.